Like a scene out of a Matrix movie, Dave Dombrow and Kevin Fallon have created a shape-shifting trail running shoe that changes the game on how well shoes can fit a runner’s feet and how a shoe can adapt and perform while running long distances over various types of terrain.
The co-founders of this relatively new shoe brand based in Portland, Oregon, are blowing past legacy notions about design, materials, fit and cost with the newly released Speedland GS:TAM. This model is the brand’s third shoe since its launch two years ago and it is a one-of-a-kind maximally-cushioned trail shoe that is as versatile and accommodating as it is unique.
Dombrow and Fallon worked for several brands during their careers as shoe designers and brand executives – including Nike, Puma and Under Armour – but in each role they found themselves limited by various corporate controls tied to what it traditionally took to build shoes. Those elements are key to fiscally responsible product launches, but when they left to set up their own shoe brand, they knew there was another way.
In a nutshell, they’ve endeavored to create optimally fitting purpose-built shoes, sparing no expense while choosing only best-in-class materials and incorporating performance-enhancing design specs. For the GS:TAM, they teamed up with elite athlete and FreeTrail podcaster Dylan Bowman to make sure they were spot-on with every last detail for ultra-distance trail running.
Combined with the fact that their business model is tied to small-batch production – they only made 1,200 pairs of their original SL:PDX ($375) and the SL:HSV ($375) encore model and are only initially selling about 3,500 pairs of the GS:TAM ($275) – Speedland shoes are expensive to make and, as a result, have lofty price tags, that, understandably, might not fit everyone’s budget. But, to give insight to how excited I have been about this shoe’s launch after seeing it in development last summer and fall, I bought a pair during the pre-sale and couldn’t be more excited about them after running in them every day this week. Keep reading and you’ll see why I’m so stoked to run in this shoe all summer long as I train for a variety of trail running races.
What’s New: Although it’s an entirely new shoe, it carries over some of the elements from Speedland’s first two models. The updated midsole is made from a 100 percent beaded Pebax external midsole with an interior midsole made from a blended EVA/Pebax elastomer. It’s a max-cushion design that’s much higher off the ground than Speedland’s first two models and with a more moderate 7mm heel-toe offset. It also has an updated version of a high-tenacity knit upper that features a BOA Fit System with multidirectional dual-dial Li2 closure system. It also has a thin but durable Michelin Fiberlite rubber outsole with a smart array of low-profile lugs that are adept at running on dirt, rocks, wooden steps, wet surfaces and gravel roads. Lastly, it has a removable best-in-class Carbitex GearFlex carbon-fiber plate (sold separately for $35 as an add-on purchase) that can make the shoe firmer/livelier or softer/milder depending on running conditions.
Why It’s Great: There are several factors that make the GS:TAM a really great shoe, but mostly it’s the creative thinking behind the design process that make this shoe so special. And sure, there are several innovative design elements incorporated into the mix, but what’s really important is that the shoe fits, runs and feels so amazing for long runs on mild to moderate trail surfaces. There have been plenty of other innovative road and trail shoes in recent years, but few, if any, have gone from initial design to finished product as smartly, smoothly and successfully as this one.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The GS:TAM fits true to size with a medium-volume interior and a roomy toe box, but what sets this shoe apart is that the BOA dual-dial Li2 closure system that creates a personalized, near–custom fit that matches the unique shape and contour of a runner’s feet. Once that wrap-like fit is dialed in, the shoe has a comfortable and secure step-in feel with a soft footbed and padded heel collar. The feeling under foot while running is perhaps best described as soft-but-firm, creating a ride that is smooth, very stable and mildly bouncy (but even more energetic when running with the carbon-fiber plate). The locked-down upper is a big contributor to the stable ride, but so is the wide footprint and the semi-firm foam sensation.
Weights: 9.0 oz. (women’s size 8), 10.7 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 7mm (37mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: The BOA performance closure system is a game-changer and especially adept for the varying terrain encountered on long trail runs. I typically locked it down to a comfortable level at the start of a run, but on longer runs found myself adjusting one or both of the dials to tighten or loose it slightly. That’s not at all a suggestion that it doesn’t create a good fit, but more highlighting its ability to quickly adjust during a run as feet swell or terrain changes in a way shoes with laces definitely cannot.
Pro: Ultimately, the GS:TAM is a well-appointed and extremely versatile shoe for a lot of different types of trail running. Because it fits so well, is so stable, so comfortable and so grippy, the GS:TAM can run well at a wide range of paces on a wide range of surfaces – and it can even hold its own on roads and bike paths. It has just enough protection from the reinforced toe bumper and midsole foam and plate to get through short stretches of gnarly terrain.
Con: If there’s a slight knock against the GS:Tam, it’s probably that it’s not extremely agile and adept for running all-out speedy paces on more rugged terrain. That’s mostly due to the wide footprint and the high-off-the-ground midsole that limits its proprioceptive feel for the trail a bit. It doesn’t feel heavy or clunky at all, but it’s just not quite as good for the quick-cadence dancing you need to do on rugged terrain compared to slightly lighter, lower-to-the-ground shoes like the Saucony Peregrine 13 or Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G 280.